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Saturday, November 27, 2021

A HOLIDAY DISAPPOINTMENT

In my mother's TV room: my buddy Gazelli, after enduring the exceedingly disappointing Etsuko Shihomi flick, THE SECOND IS A CHRISTIAN (1985) with me. 

Etsuko Shihomi was the powerhouse karate badass who had supporting memorable roles in THE STREET FIGHTER and THE STREET FIGHTER'S LAST REVENGE (both 1974), and well-deserved starring roles in DRAGON PRINCESS (1976) and a trio of SISTER STREET FIGHTER movies (1974-1976), and those of us who enjoy sleazy, ultra-violent '70's Japanese karate actioners adored her in such fare. She was as much of a hardcore badass as any of the men she starred opposite — and when you can say that about someone who was a regular in Sonny Chiba bone-breakers, that's REALLY saying something — so why waste a performer of her shattering skills on a weaker-than-weak romantic comedy?


THE SECOND IS A CHRISTIAN seeks to lure in her fans with its promotional image's juxtaposition of Shiomi looking as fierce as ever while wielding a sword, only decked out in a nun's gear. The alleged comedy comes from her being the heir to a Yakuza family who got out of the life by finding religion, but considering who's playing the character, one could be forgiven for thinking that she would eventually bust out her legendary ass-kicking acumen. That doesn't happen until the ass end of the final reel, by which point we have endured tons or unfunny comedy and a romance plot that is completely un-involving, and when she does finally break out a sword, she pretty much fumbles her way through the encounters in which it is deployed. No skilled badass this time around, but instead a milquetoast in a habit.

Joe and I prefaced this with a screening of the vastly superior 13 STEPS OF MAKI: THE YOUNG ARISTOCRATS (1975), which is a fun (and virtually plotless) exercise in wall-to-wall karate/exploitation action set against an escalating war of asshole factions, and the comparison between the two Shihomi films could not be more drastic. Anyway, take my word for it and skip THE SECOND IS A CHRISTIAN, should it come your way.
 
Image from the film's DVD release. A major, major letdown from one of my favorite action stars.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

THE FALLOUT BEGINS

3:30 PM:

 
I was asleep until about 30 minutes ago, recovering from yesterday's dialysis treatment, when a clearly unhinged black dude began ranting on the sidewalk in front of my building. In the wake of yesterday's Kyle Rittenhouse verdict, I expected those who are off their meds to come out of the woodwork, but not right outside. 
 
When I woke up he was in full tilt, with his overall gist being that his family brought him here from Africa so he could work hard, but it all amounts to nothing when a white kid can shoot people on the street with zero consequences. He then alternated between screaming about how "we're expected to kiss the white woman's ass while all she does is lie to us," complaints about the NYPD constantly abusing him, mention of his mother, noting "you all accuse me of being bipolar," and just an ongoing litany that left no doubt that the guy was not well. 
 
My down the hall neighbor of course went downstairs with her camera and photographed the scene, where the incident was responded to by multiple cops. They wisely opted to let the guy wear himself out while a soft-voiced female officer attempted to calm him down. After a little more than a half hour of histrionics, they managed to coax him into a car by promising to contact "his people," and they only just cleared the area.

Monday, November 01, 2021

RED DAWN OVER BORO PARK

Today’s car service driver to my first dialysis treatment of the week showed up twenty minutes before my scheduled pickup, and what a character the guy was.

The driver was a huge Russian bear of a man, somewhere around his late 60’s, and dressed in bright red sweats and a red hoodie. That ensemble was topped with a red baseball cap emblazoned with a Soviet military crest on the forehead and huge white letters reading “CCCP” on the bill, with “USSR” on the back. So, I was being driven by an old school Sov super-patriot, that much was already apparent, but the hilarious icing on this cake was when his cell phone went off. It loudly and proudly played some ultra-militaristic instrumental anthem of the sort that conjured up mental images of marching troops in propaganda reels. I had to fight not to laugh.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2021 -Day 31: HEREDITARY (2018)

                      A mother's desperate grief opens the door to something unspeakably dark.

Two back-to-back deaths — the first an old lady, and the second a thirteen-year-old girl who meets her fate in a horrifying accident — send a family spiraling down a maelstrom of grief, dysfunction, and open hostility. Annie (Toni Collette, who turns in a shattering performance), the old lady's estranged daughter, as well as the mother of the young girl, becomes an emotional wreck after the one-two punch of the loss of family members, especially her daughter, and when she sits in on a support group for people grieving over loved ones, she makes a friend who offers a solution to her problems...

I really can't say anything more without giving away a lot, so I'll end the synopsis here. 

HEREDITARY is the first film from director Ari Aster, the creative mind behind the superb MIDSOMMAR (2019), and the flavors found in that effort are also found here. First of all, it's a very slow burn that takes a while to get going. It initially plays out as a lugubriously-paced and quite depressing family drama and a study of how said family handles grief (or doesn't),and I have to admit that I wondered if I had been misled by all of the talk about what a brilliant new voice in horror Aster brings to the screen. I was not connecting with it and I was ready to write it off as something along the lines of Ang Lee's 1997 study of family dysfunction, THE ICE STORM (which is a great movie, BTW), until the narrative reaches the point of the young girl's hideous death and its aftermath. From then on I was riveted, as I wanted to see how the family would cope with not only the death, but the way in which Annie found her daughter's corpse. Seriously, it's truly horrible, and Annie, a skilled artisan who crafts detailed miniatures, expresses her grief via her art. That's the point when the film subtly shifts from a family drama to ever-escalating balls-out horror, and trust me when I tell that it is both disturbing and very, very bleak. I won't state where it goes, but it veers into a flavor of horror that I often find dull and uninteresting, yet Aster's assured hand ramps up the skin-crawling terror and delivers in no uncertain terms.

BOTTOM LINE: Trust yer Bunche on this one and check it out. Again, it gets off to a very slow start, but absolutely stick with it. If it helps, I'll give you this one guideline, specifically that things pick up when Annie pressures her son into taking his younger sister with him to a party...

And with that recommendation, we have reached the end of the 2021 edition of 31 DAYS OF HORROR. It's been a tough time for all of us over the past year-plus, and the real world has often been more horrifying than anything found in movie and TV confections meant to put the frighteners on us, but scary entertainment is just that, entertainment, and sometimes that's just what we need in order to feel just a bit better. HAPPY HALLOWEEN, from this aging monster kid!!!

Saturday, October 30, 2021

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2021 -Day 30: KUNG FU FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1982)

And they ain't kidding!

Where to even begin...

I first heard of this one while watching the fight scene highlights videotape THIS IS KUNG FU with a bunch of equally-stoned friends back in 1989, and we simply could not fucking believe what we saw when the tape opened with the literally jaw-dropping trailer for this flick. Along with all manner of bizarro Chinese mythology-specific creatures and weirdness, the trailer featured tag lines that mangled the English language to an alarming degree (example:"Ghost seeking revenge evils are deadly scared!" and "Human heart annoying both spirits and human!), and my friends and I watched the trailer over and over in disbelief, vowing to someday find and watch this surefire classic of lysergic chopsocky madness.

The insane trailer in question.

I finally found the movie about four years later in a cheesy hole-in-the-wall video store that was going out of business, a victim of the Disneyfication of Times Square and it cost me around ten bucks (about five bucks too much for a beat-up used copy), but I finally had the object of my relentless quest. 

Packaging imagery for the Ocean Shores VHS release from the late '80's, a tape that took me four years to track down.

The wait was worth it, because the martial arts were pretty good and the script is a ludicrous dialogue fan's wet dream.

                                                               And they meant that shit!!!

Featuring Indonesian martial arts movie cult figure Billy Chong — who starred in the rather similar, though way more coherent, KUNG FU ZOMBIE (also 1982) — the film chronicles a young hero Chun Sing's quest for vengeance against Kam Tai Fu, the rat bastard who murdered his father, a quest instigated by the pissed-off ghost of the hero's dad. The murderous rat bastard is played by none other than the legendary Lo Lieh, star of the film that kicked off the 1970's kung fu movie boom, the classic FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH (1971, released in the U.S. in 1972), but here he's playing one of his many, many outright villains and it's always a pleasure to see him be just plain unabashedly evil. Realizing that the son may come after him and hand him a well-earned ass-kicking, the bad guy hires Chun (Sai Aan Dai), an evil kung fu priest/sorcerer to handle things for him, and the evil sorcerer gets up to a shitload of black magic and suchlike over the course of the film, including one of the most memorable (to say nothing of ludicrous) moments in the entire history of cinema. The prize goes to a scene wherein the villainous sorcerer realizes he's about to get his ass kicked, so he throws some spells into the air and screams "Count Dracula! Come to my aid!" The second he says this, the sky turns to night, the full moon pops up, a wolf howls and then from out of nowhere fucking Count Dracula himself — the only white guy in the entire film — swoops from out of the sky screaming "I'M COMING!!! HAHAHAHAHAH!!!"

Sometimes you've just gotta bring the lord of vampires to a kung fu fight.

And don't ask how the hero and the eerie, undead aides he gathers finally defeat the sorcerer (hint: it involves the aid of a bunch of prostitutes who are experiencing "monthly women's concerns"). To say more would give away shit that you just won't believe, so I leave you to rent this and discover its ultra-bizarro wonders for yourself. Illegal smokables and alcoholic beverages are recommended for maximizing the fun, and it's a real crowd-pleaser/baffler when shown to a roomful of willing (soon-to-be confused) attendees. A unique cinematic experience, TRUST YER BUNCHE and snag this one as soon as possible.

Poster for the original theatrical release.

Friday, October 29, 2021

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2021 -Day 29: MAD LOVE (1935)

When obsession leads to unrequited love, utter madness, and murder.

For forty nights, brilliant surgeon Dr. Gogol (Peter Lorre) attends horror stage productions at the Grand Guignol-esque Théâtre des Horreurs in France, where he has become fixated on the theater's star performer, Yvonne Orlac (Frances Drake), and on the night of her final performance he approaches her backstage after the performance and professes his romantic feelings to her. Yvonne politely rebuffs the master surgeon's creepy attentions with mention of her husband, brilliant concert pianist Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive), and Gogol is shattered upon hearing that she is married. At the farewell party for Yvonne, Gogol gives Yvonne a passionate and unwanted kiss, and her body language fully conveys her disgust, but she maintains a cool facade as the rejected Gogol departs and party continues. Clearly not right in the head, on his way out Gogol sees a lifelike wax likeness of Yvonne being carted off to be melted down, but he intercepts the waxwork, buys it, and takes it home, where he fixates upon it in a private room.

While returning home from a concert performance, Stephen Orlac's train crashes and the pianist suffers injuries to his head and hands. The head injury is seen to by a nearby surgeon, but Yvonne is told that Stephen's talented hands are crushed beyond repair, so a desperate Yvonne swallows her pride and calls upon Gogol's surgical skills to repair her husband. There is nothing that he can do, but Gogol, secretly manages to obtain the hands of Rollo, a recently-guillotined murderer with finely-honed knife-throwing skills. (Guess where this is going, kids?) Gogol transplants the killer's hands onto Stephen's wrists, passing them off as Stephen's own hands but with his miraculous surgical skills having saved the day. However, the surgery and post-op treatment are expensive, and the combined wealth of the husband and wife soon dwindles down to nothing. Nonetheless, Orlac attempts to recover his lost piano skills, but the murderer's 

hands seem to have a mind of their own, as he begins displaying unerring skill when throwin pens and knives...

Stephen Orlac (Colin Clive) begins to twig to something not being right with his post-op hands.

Gogol, meanwhile, still lusts after Yvonne and grows ever more unhinged in the process, donning a disguise as the dead murderer and claiming to a horrified Stephen that Dr. Gogol reattached his severed head so that he could live again, only with mechanical hands. 

 Dr. Gogol (Peter Lorre) as the once-decapitated Rollo.

The disguised madman also informs Stephen that the previous night the transplanted hands compelled Stephen to murder his own step-father, to whom he had appealed for money but was venomously turned down. Gogol is, of course, the actual killer, and once convinced that he has successfully framed Stephen, the surgeon, now fully insane, returns to his home and his waxwork, all the while anticipating a swift arrest and guillotining for Stephen, thus clearing the way for him to woo the repulsed Yvonne. But things take a series of unforeseen turns as the paths of all the key players merge for resolution.

The face of a madman.

 One of the forgotten gems of horror from Hollywood's golden age and one of several adaptations of Maurice Renard's 1920 novel LES MAINS d'ORLAC (THE HANDS OF ORLAC), MAD LOVE is a classy and moody psychological chiller that is utterly dominated by Peter Lorre's performance as the bug-eyed and quite insane Dr. Gogol. We understand his loneliness and longing for Yvonne, but at no point do we sympathize with him. The guy is just too far gone and too downright creepy from the get-go, and it's safe to say that no one else of that era could have pulled off the role without it degenerating into mere over-the-top theatrical histrionics. Lorre mesmerizes by his sheer understatement, expect when it's time not to be understated, yet he manages to convey Gogol's obsessiveness in a thespic turn that gives Charles Laughton's Dr. Moreau in ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932) a run for its money. That's high praise indeed, and MAD LOVE is well-deserving of being rediscovered.

Poster for the theatrical release.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2021 -Day 28: MY FRIEND DAHMER (2017)

                                 "Joyce, we need to talk about Jeff." — Jeffrey Dahmer's dad.

 It's 1978  in Bath, Ohio and young Jeffrey Dahmer leads a lonely existence in the limbo of his senior year of high school and the escalating dysfunction of his home life. A seemingly emotionless blank slate of an outsider whose loner status concerns his workaholic chemist father and whose oddness is overlooked by a mother who is in willful denial of her own untreated mental illness (she was recently released from a mental health care facility), Jeff spends his spare time collecting road kill animals that he takes to "the Hut," his father's isolated shed, where he deposits the carcasses into jars that he fills with a mild acid (obtained from his unknowing dad) and is fascinated as the flesh corrodes over months, leaving behind bones that the boy fetishizes.

                     The Dahmers: the 1970's American nuclear family in a state of tragic decay.

At school Jeff endures all of the usual pitfalls of high school loserdom, including bullies, boring and classes, the banality  of high school activities and "school spirit," until one day he realizes that he can garner laughs and attention by acting out in odd ways. He soon becomes known as a class clown for making strange noises at random and for "spazzing out" by imitating fall-on-the-floor seizures and the palsy of the interior decorator hired by his mom. 

His attention-getting antics amuse his peers, but at what cost to young Jeff's dignity and soul?

Such displays, soon known as "pulling a Dahmer," win him a small number of friends who admire his disruptive outbursts, as they shake up the boredom of daily high school existence. With friends for the first time in his life, Jeff and his pals engage in harmless pranks around the school, but their fun and tomfoolery starkly contrasts with Jeff's deteriorating home life and his own unease about his awakening to his homosexuality, which is ignited by regular glimpses of the hunky doctor who jogs near Jeff's house several times per week. But it was 1978 and the savage social arena of high school was notoriously unkind to "faggots," so Jeff keeps that aspect of his identity to himself. 

When a common physical becomes an ignition point for a twisted interpretation of normal homosexual desire.

As the year drags on, Jeff's family life deteriorates further, as his father, who has been finding solace at the bottom of a tumbler of scotch and is fed up with living (but not actually dealing) with his wife's mental illness, moves into a motel while Jeff is away on a class trip to Washington, D.C. But even before that blow, Jeff's dad, frustrated with his own miserable existence, goes to the Hut and throws out Jeff's morbid menagerie, ordering his son to cease such creepy activities immediately. (He later tells Jeff that he sometimes gets mad at his son because he sees in him things he does not like about himself.) This does not deter Jeff, as he continues to collect dead animals, only away from home, as well as trapping and killing live prey for crude dissections in the woods. 

A new hobby: trapping live animals...for dissection.

Jeff expresses an interest in pursuing biology, as he is curious about the insides of living things and how they work, a statement that presages dark things to come. Steadily declining, Jeff gets into booze (which he drinks during school and damned near any other available time) and sometimes shows up to school reeking like roadkill. Already an emotional tabula rasa, his drinking renders him a shambling, silent automaton while his friends, who still exploit him for his "spazzing" antics, begin to notice that his is legitimately "off" and that he has begun to distance himself from them. With his dad living in a motel room and his mother and little brother going to stay with grandma in the wake of the parents' divorce — with his father pointedly wanting custody of his younger son but not Jeff —  Jeff, now in a perpetual alcoholic state of disconnected numbness, is basically abandoned and left in the now-empty house, alone with his increasingly dark thoughts. All of this adds up to a long-simmering rage that must inevitably come to a head...

The 2012 graphic novel memoir, the source material from which the film was adapted. I gave the then-unknown book a glowing review when I covered it for Publishers Weekly nine years ago, my copy being given to me by the author, autographed and accompanied by a doodle of Dahmer's bespectacled face, at the publisher's press meet-and-greet on the night before the 2012 NY Comic Con. I have tracked the book's rise to prominence ever since, and I am delighted to know that film more than did it justice.

Adapted from the critically-acclaimed, award-winning 2012 graphic novel memoir of the same name by John "Derf" Backderf, one of Jeffrey Dahmer's small circle of friends in real life, MY FRIEND DAHMER presents an all-too-recognizable reality of the often painful and confusing point when one is on the cusp of adulthood and the prospect of life beyond high school can be a foreign and terrifying prospect for some, even for kids who have the best possible home life. Like the graphic novel, the film does not make the audience comfortable as the narrative drags us into Jeff's sad, lonely world, one that he barely registers through eyes that observe with a blank 100-yard stare, hiding his pain behind the antics of the class "spaz." It's an intimate portrait born of genuine sadness, loneliness, and dysfunction framed against the environment of surviving high school as well as home, and it never feels and looks less than authentic. (Having lived during the era in which this takes place, I can tell you with authority that the film gets everything right.) None of the over-the-top histrionics and cartoon villainy and sadism of a Stephen King high school terror tale is to be had here, and it is that careful and honesty handling of the subject matter that somehow manages to humanize the now-infamous twisted, damaged young man who would eventually go on to murder, torture, and cannibalize 17 confessed-to male victims before he was apprehended in 1991. The film could have been rendered in animation that stayed faithful to the graphic novel's Fred Hembeck meets "ugly" underground comix-style aesthetics, but the filmmakers wisely opted for a live-action cast of young unknowns whose performances are never less than totally honest and believable, with singer/songwriter/musician/actor Ross Lynch disturbingly mesmerizing as the young Dahmer. He is simply superb in the part.

The narrative ends at the inception of Dahmer's killing spree, but no murders or gore are depicted, as this is not some exploitationer or another in the long line of charnel house slasher fare. This is a human story, albeit a dark and dire one, and it is the strength of its humanity and our benefit of hindsight knowledge of the nightmare to come that makes this a true-to-life example of abject horror. Of when suburbia stands in for the abyss. HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.

Poster for the theatrical release.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2021 -Day 27: ONE HUNDRED YOKAI TALES (1968)

"There are things man just can't measure or understand in this world." — mysterious samurai Yasutaro

 In feudal Japan, a wealthy land owner plots to tear down an obscure shrine to the Yokai (spirits) that's precious to the local community, along with an occupied tenement house. And as if that's not enough evil for one story, another wealthy evil bastard also plans to extort an old man into turning over his nubile daughter as a sex slave in order to pay off a debt in which the deed to tenement house was put up as collateral. When a mysterious samurai interferes in their business and manages to obtain the money to cover the old man's debt, he gives the money to the daughter, who in turn gives it to her father. Pops goes to the lord to pay off the debt, but the scumbag lord has the old man murdered, the deed retrieved, and the girl held prisoner to await the rape that will inaugurate her new existence as a sex slave. In the midst of all of this, much is made of the 100 Yokai Tales, a series of old scary stories that serve to illustrate what happens when one is foolish enough to disregard the ancient curse-preventing rituals and disrespect the supernatural forces of the Yokai. We see one of these stories told by a professional storyteller during an entertainment for the land owner, and at the end a ritual to ward off any curses from the Yokai is to be performed. 

In a formally-told ghost story, a Rokurokubi, the famous long-necked female Yokai of Japanese folklore, teaches two arrogant fishermen a lethal lesson after they violate a river that they were warned not to fish from.

The evil land owner instead declares that such a ritual is not necessary, as it it nothing more than an old superstition, and dismisses the storyteller. Once he has departed, large sums of money are exchanged among the corrupt, the tenement building is slated for immediate demolition even though the residents refuse to leave, an innocent girl is about to be violated, and the temple to the Yokai demolished. Once the temple comes down, the corrupt come to understand in no uncertain terms what "Fuck around and find out" means when offending the Yokai...

Okay, let's get a few things straight.

ONE HUNDRED YOKAI TALES, known in the West as YOKAI MONSTERS: ONE HUNDRED MONSTERS, is the first in a trilogy of 1960's Yokai flicks, and in some corners of fandom is considered a classic. That said, it is very much a product of its native culture, and the way that its story is told is geared toward that culture and an intimate familiarity with its folklore and the creatures found therein. Japanese horror, especially older versions of such, is often about the slowest of slow burns, and that is very mcuh what we get here. Also, if one goes into this movie expecting the hundred monsters of the tile and seeming menagerie of same seen on the poster, the viewer, perhaps even the viewer in its country and time of origin, is in likely to be disappointed. The movie attempts a fusion of the standard samurai drama in which the wealthy and powerful oppress the local peasantry until a righteous hero, often a ronin with a mysterious past, shows up to mete out well-deserved justice to rat bastards with his swift and deadly sword skills, and roughly 99% of the flick is devoted to such period piece drama. It's okay as such, but it's nothing we have not seen a million times before. The only new wrinkle is the Yokai element, and that part is sparse at most. We get the aforementioned ghost story, and a Kasa-obake, a Yokai that's a living umbrella paying visits to and playing with the mentally-challenged adult son of the guy who wants the girl as a sex slave. The umbrella monster's antics with the slow-witted man-child is like something out of a kiddie movie and does not work at all amid all of the far more serious drama going on around it.

The Kasa-obake, or umbrella spirit, a creature not to include in what is intended to be a creepy spook show.

So, what of the hundred monsters promised in the title? Forget it, Charlie. The real Yokai action does not occur until literally the last ten minutes or so, in which a giant, cackling head shows up and drives the would-be sex slaver to madness, making him kill his top henchman and then himself, and then a series of Yokai frighten the land owner into a similar state and similar actions. 

The vengeance of the Yokai. (Maybe twelve or so, definitely NOT one hundred.)

The Yokai, perhaps twenty-some-odd, are then briefly seen in a slow-motion parade down a road as they cavort and bear a couple of barrels of saké, presumably for a celebratory party in their realm. The mysterious samurai turns out to be an investigator for the local high magistrate who was sent to investigate all of the narrative shenanigans and help the locals when possible, but when he arrives to confront the baddies and take them down, he finds his work has already been done for him by the Yokai, upon which he muses with the quote that opened this review.The bodies of the baddies and their thugs are carted off as their wives weep and the locals mill about, confused as to what exactly happened to their oppressors. THE END.

                                  The Yokai: boogieing down after effortlessly kicking ass.

ONE HUNDRED YOKAI TALES is not a bad film, but its horror elements are far, far less than what is promised, and Western viewers are likely to be disappointed by it, even Westerners who are steeped in Japanese period cinema and folklore.  It's worth a look, but it can;t hold a candle to its far more entertaining (if not scary) sequel, YOAKI DAISENSO (THE GREAT YOKAI WAR), released on home video in the U.S. as YOKAI MONSTERS: SPOOK WARFARE, which I saw first, over a decade ago, and which I thoroughly enjoyed. But I have other films to get to this time around, so maybe I'll save that one for next year's roster...

Poster from the Japanese theatrical release. "One Hundred Monsters," my black ass.. Twenty-five, more like, and that for only maybe five minutes.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2021 -Day 26: THE MAD MONSTER (1942)

"Grrr! Grrr!!!Jesus, can't a brutha hump a leg without some asshole harshing his groove???"

At an unspecified swamp locale early during the United States' involvement in World War II, Dr. Lorenzo Cameron (George Zucco) conducts experiments intended to create American super-soldiers for the Allied war effort. Unfortunately, while others elsewhere conducted top secret experiments that produced everyone's favorite patriotic superhero, Captain America, Cameron's great idea is to generate werewolf soldiers to unleash against the enemy. Or rather, that's the long-term goal. At present, Cameron is more concerned with creating a werewolf that he can dispatch against the colleagues who laughed at him and destroyed his career because of his obviously insane interests. For this sinister purpose, he injects wolf blood serum into hulking mentally-challenged gardener Petro (Glenn Strange, soon to be Frankenstein's monster in the Universal monster cycle), as one does, and in no time Petro is wolfing-out and sent to kill the mad doctor's enemies, whom Cameron manipulates into encounters with the wolfman. (There are other characters, but they are of only perfunctory importance, so for the purposes of this review I choose to ignore them.)

Scoff all you want, but this film was bold for bringing us cinema's first BDSM wolf man. 

THE MAD MONSTER is yet another cheapie from PRC, a studio notorious for its "poverty row" output, and in this case its a gene-splicing of THE WOLF MAN (obviously), OF MICE AND MEN's Lenny character, and PRC's own infamous crap-fest, THE DEVIL BAT, and the result is just as much of a time-filler as one would expect. It's rather dull, has no scares to speak of, it boasts a sad-looking wolfman in overalls that give him the aspect of an hirsute, ravening Mister Green Jeans, and the film's sole saving grace is the super-atmospheric swamp set.

A werewolf, or Feter Moishe returning home drunk again? YOU DECIDE!

So why bother bringing it up at all? Well, for all horror fans there is always a gateway film to a favorite type of monster, and for me this was "baby's first werewolf movie" when I was four years old. Its elementary doses of black-and-white aesthetics, a man transforming into a savage (if admittedly tatty) savage fusion of man and apex woodland predator, and a mad scientist held my little mind riveted, and I absolutely dug it at the time. Thus, I have a very soft spot in my heart for its zero-budget charms.

A werewolf attack, or just another Tuesday at the salon of "Mister Lycos," the West Village's most in-demand lycanthropic hairdresser?

It was maybe a year later that I saw a genuinely great werewolf film, specifically THE WOLF MAN, and that masterpiece of classic Universal horror cemented the werewolf as my favorite monster of all the classic archetypes. So if you, like me, are a rabid werewolf completist who will sit through literally any flick wherein a guy turns all hairy and ravenous, give this a look. It's of interest as one of the earliest examples of the sub-genre, and also as an example of a quickly-made cheapjack ripoff meant to ride on the jock of a vastly better movie.

Poster from the theatrical release.

Monday, October 25, 2021

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2021 -Day 25: PSYCHO GOREMAN (2020)

"The horrors you've just witnessed cannot be unseen. Your young minds will carry this until it consumes your miserable death."

"COOL!"

Siblings Luke (Owen Myre) and Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) exist in a relationship where Mimi, a truly horrible and awful child, totally dominates her milquetoast older brother, constantly bullying him, both physically and emotionally. Things get immeasurably worse when the kids unearth and unleash and ancient evil upon the world when they discover the prison of a terrifying monster in their backyard. The utterly malevolent creature (body-acted by Steven Vlahos, voice-acted by Matt Ninaber) is a Lovecraftian entity of immense cosmic power who was imprisoned millennia ago by cosmic being of similar power after he annihilated whole planets in his campaign for universal destruction. 

                                                                An ancient cosmic evil awakens.

The being, however, finds himself under the control of the awful Mimi, due to her possessing the gem that held the imprisoned monster in the first place, a state he does not like at all, and the already power-mad little girl wastes zero time in subjugating the monster to her will as her complete and utter helpless bitch. Mimi dubs the creature "Psycho Goreman" ("P.G." for short) and from there her every whim is heeded by the beast in her thrall, including escalating the bullying of her brother to potentially lethal levels,  getting Psycho Goreman to make the boy she's crushing on "less of a doink" (which works but does not go as expected), making the creature play drums in her self-aggrandizing garage band (their one song is about how great Mimi is, sung, of course, by her), all while barely, just barely, preventing P.G. from killing everyone he encounters. (But not always; there are several who meet gory, agonizing demises at the hands of P.G.) But once reawakened, PSYCHO GOREMAN's resurrection does not go unnoticed by the entities that imprisoned him ages ago, and it's only a matter of time until Earth becomes the final battleground for the fate of the entire universe. But if you think Mimi's going to relinquish the gem and, therefore, her unbridled power, you've got another think coming...

                      The utter indignity of being enslaved by a horrible elementary-schooler. 

I saw PSYCHO GOREMAN several months back but held off discussion of it so I could cover it for this year's round of 31 DAYS OF HORROR. As should be obvious from the synopsis, it's basically a piss take on E.T., only with the fantastical creature being a thing of blackest cosmic evil and the child protagonist being the worst possible human being. In fact, I dare say she's worse than the monster.

  The irredeemable awfulness that is Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna).

Seriously, Mimi is almost unbearable to watch, and most viewers will likely only keep watching the movie just to find out what happens with Psycho Goreman. Seriously, she is a horrible little cunt from start tio finish, and I kept hoping that P.G. would suddenly break free of her tyranny and tear her head from her neck, no matter if his freedom ensured the destruction of reality as we know it. Yeah, she's that kind of awful, and young Nita-Josee Hanna is to be commended for making her so repellent.

But with all of that said, PSYCHO GOREMAN is first and foremost a comedy, and it's really very damned funny, even downright hilarious in some parts. Mimi's family is a mess, what with her brother being an utter pussy, and her mom a fed-up endurer of her marriage to her shameless and useless slacker of a husband, but much humor is mined from their towering dysfunction. The parents, especially, become hilarious during the final third, when the fate of the universe is in the balance, but neither can get past there comparatively insignificant issues with each other, even when one is granted cosmic power to aid in the defeat of P.G. All of this is liberally seasoned with lots of over-the-top blood and gore, and it's never not funny. 

Rib-tickling comedy at its finest. Seriously, E.T. would only have been improved by the inclusion of this sort of gag.

So, yeah, I highly recommend PSYCHO GOREMAN, and I'd even say it's suitable for your kids, provided they can handle its considerable blood and guts. And I do mean considerable!

 
Poster from the theatrical release.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2021 -Day 24: THE THING THAT COULDN'T DIE (1958)

 Free after over 400 years: the undying severed head of a Satanic sorcerer.

At a remote dude ranch, a pretty young water witch's divining powers allow her to unfailingly find water,  lost items, and detect the presence of evil forces. 

Sweet young water witch Jessica (Carolyn Kearney): about to unleash something that should have stayed buried.

She warns the shady ranch hand and the hulking, low-minded chore boy not to dig in a certain area, as it sends her evil-detection sense into overdrive. The old woman who owns the ranch tells them to ignore the the young witch's warning, and all present, including a trio of city slicker guests at the ranch, scoff at the girls powers, despite witnessing several concrete examples that her gifts are the irrefutable real deal. The dig unearths what the ranch owner presumes to be a treasure chest filled with gold, and she is eager to open it, but one of the guests, an historian and archaeologist, suggests that she be patient and let him go to the city to bring in an expert to verify what it is and what it's worth, as it could be priceless if unopened before proper appraisal. She takes his advice and, despite Jessica's warnings and clearly-demonstrated escalating terror, has the ranch hands move the chest into the main house, where they are assigned to guard it overnight. Once the ranch owner is asleep, the shady cowboy sleazily peeps on Jessica as she prepares for bed, after which he sneaks into the ranch owner's bedroom, steals the key to the room where the chest is being kept, and convinces the dimwitted hand — who's basically Lenny from OF MICE AND MEN — to open the chest. He leaves the hand to his task and the returns t Jessica's cabin, this time with more on his mind than peeping. Thankfully, Jessica's power keeps her awake and alert while the rapey cowboy is near, but he has a change of heart and returns ti the main house. Once there, he finds that the slow-witted ranch hand hs succeeded in opening the chest, but instead of gold he finds a living severed head that mind-controls him into being its physically imposing slave. When the cowboy tries to fight the enthralled ranch hand, he is killed, and the head sends his slave on a quest to find his body, his head held like a lantern by his slave.

When she asked for head, this is not what she had in mind.
  
When the historian returns with the expert and they find the chest opened and its contents gone, they nonetheless have the chest itself to examine, and once they have used chemical to free the chest's lid of accumulated crud, its inscription states that the chest contains the severed head if Gideon Drew, a satanic sorcerer who was executed 400 years prior. The full details are revealed in a flashback dream had by Jessica, and it explains that Drew possessed "the evil eye," specifically a gaze that bends minds ti his nefarious will. His persecutors keep him at bay with a fleur de lis pendant, a pendant found in the present day and now worn by Jessica, thus making her impervious to Drew's control. However, nothing goes right, and it's only a matter of time before the warlock reunites with his body and all hell breaks loose...

Reunited, and it feels so good?
 
THE THING THAT COULDN'T DIE came along after the run of classic Universal horror films ended — for all intents and purposes, the classic Universal era ended with THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) and, arguably, its two lesser sequels — so it it often overlooked when the Universal horror classics are discussed. That's kind of a shame because it's something of a hidden gem, its rather abrupt ending notwithstanding. Yeah, it's got a big guy lumbering around while brandishing a severed head that strongly resembles Edward Mulhare, but it does not have a fantastical creature like a werewolf, a man-made monster, or an amphibious missing link toe make it as memorable as its predecessors. That said, the basic plot is solid, and it would have befitted from a bigger budget and a tad more care in its production. Still, its a fun little shocker when taken as the B-picture that it is, and it in no way deserved the lambasting it got as fodder for MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 in that show's eighth season.

Poster for the theatrical release.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2021 -Day 23: DAIMAJIN (1966)

The great majin Arakatsuma: Fuck around with a mountain deity and find out.

An evil chamberlain, Ōdate Samanosuke (Ryūtarō Gomi), murders the local royal family, all expect for the son and daughter who are spirited away by Kogenta (Jun Fujimaki), a retainer loyal to their dead parents, and takes over as lord of the area. His rule is a cruel one, with his men enforcing a decree that worship of and rituals to appease the local majin (demon god) Arakatsuma are now forbidden. A priestess of the majin, Shinobu (Otome Tsukimiya), issues a grave warning against this, but Samanosuke and his thugs refuse to heed it...

The retainer takes the children up into the mountains, to a forgotten temple in taboo territory, forgotten by all but the children's aunt. The area is marked by a gigantic statue of the local mountain deity that sealed the majin ages ago, so the locals avoid the place like the plague, so the children are raised at the temple without fear of discovery. They grow to young adulthood while the villagers endure the sadistic torments of Samanosuke, including brutal torture and forcing every man in the village into slave labor. Knowing that this abuse is going on, Kogenta ventures into the town in an attempt to round up any surviving retainers and overthrow the vicious despot, but he is immediately captured and held captive. The young prince, Tadafumi (Yoshihiko Aoyama), gets word of Kogenta's capture and attempts a rescue, but he too is trapped. With our heroes slated for execution, Shinobu attempts to sway the evil lord with a warning that his actions will earn him the curse of the mountain god if he doesn't knock it off. Samanosuke, or course, ignores her advice and has her killed, after which he orders the statue of the majin demolished. As she dies, Shinobu curses Samanosuke to a merciless and brutal death, underscored with a warning that if he goes forward with his plan to destroy the majin, Arakatsuma will awaken, and he really, REALLY does not want that...

A work crew is dispatched up the mountain to destroy the najin, and on their way they discover Tadafumi's sister, Kozasa (Miwa Takada), whom they force to guide them to the statue. Once there they drive a chisel into its forehead, but they run for their lives when that action causes blood to drip from its stone forehead. The earth then opens up and takes the desecrators into its depths. A desperate Kozasa gets down on her knees and prays ti the majin, begging it to save her brother and Kogenta from the evil warlord. 

You can guess what happens next.

Released by Daiei, the company responsible for the Gamera giant monster series (the main competition to Toho's more upscale monster efforts), DAIMAJIN played on TV in th U.S. as MAJIN: MONSTER OF TERROR, and it did not go over well with American fans of daikaiju cinema back in the days. New York's beloved 4:30 MOVIE weekday showcase would regularly run "Monster Week" (a surefire ratings winner), and I, of course, never missed it. It was there that I got my formative education on giant monster movies, so I watched whatever they chose to feature, The rosters were dominated by Godzilla and friends, or Gamera entries, but every now and then something else would slip in, like THE X FROM OUTER SPACE (1967) or MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET (1967). Among those oddities was MAJIN, and back then I found it boring and not worth sitting through for its payoff. (I think I was maybe nine when I first saw it.) Apparently I was not alone in that assessment, as MAJIN was one of the rare 4:30 MOVIE entries that only played once. (The crappy dubbed print and the commercial interruptions did not help.)

Skip ahead to around the year 2002. I forget where I was when I found it, but I got my hands on a handsome boxed set of all three Majin films — turned out there was a trilogy — in gorgeous widescreen, subtitled transfers, and watching DAIMAJIN again in that format and from the perspective of a 37-year-old who in the intervening years had gotten deep into samurai period dramas, it was a whole other experience than what I saw on THE 4:30 MOVIE.

First and foremost, DAIMAJIN is a straight-up samurai period piece that's also a textbook example of the particular flavor of storytelling that I call "the Japanese slow burn." If one goes into it blind, it's yet another of the many, many jidai geka (period piece) films that were being cranked out at the time, and as such its elements are nothing fans of the genre have not seen before. What sets it apart is the inclusion of the majin as a seemingly incongruous plot element, and that inclusion makes the film. The samurai melodrama that takes up 4/5 of the film is okay, but it absolutely sets the stage for when the majin  comes to life and goes on a most righteous rampage. When active, the formerly relatively featureless statue takes on well-defined detail and an unforgettable scowling visage whose effectiveness is compounded by the actor's human eyes being visible through the makeup. It's a truly startling effect.

                                                     The stone face of righteous justice.

As previously stated, DAIMAJIN is a straight-up samurai drama that suddenly becomes a kaiju movie during the last reel. The tonal shift is admittedly jarring, but that's what lends the sequence much of its power. And powerful it is, as the now living — and very pissed-off — majin implacably stomps its way through the village, wreaking unstoppable destruction on the village and the lord and his men. The good guys survive, but they are kind of forgotten amidst the stunning destruction and top-notch suitmation acting. The majin is one of the most believably-realized kaiju in all of cinema, and his rampage is ably aided and abetted by gorgeous widescreen cinematography and an evocative soundtrack by Toho/Godzilla stalwart Akira Ifukube, the John Williams of the kaiju genre. From out of nowhere, DAIMAJIN turns into a spectacle of righteous carnage, an epic display of justice being meted out by the gods, and it is wondrous and terrifying to behold.

The film was followed by two swiftly-released sequels — RETURN OF DAIMAJIN and DAIMAJIN STRIKES AGAIN, with all three released within the space of nine months (Daiei cranked out movies cheap and quick, as painfully evidenced by the Gamera series — but neither followup was as solid as the first entry. The only reason to see them is for the stunning special effects, including a sequence where the majin parts a river, a la the part of the Red Sea in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (1956). The effects in the Daimajin films are beyond criticism, as they are among the top tier of the entire genre, so find the sequels' effects system online if you are intrigued. 

DAIMAJIN, as previously noted, is a slow burn with a spectacular payoff, but it is definitely not for all tastes, or even for all kaiju fans. It moves at a glacial pace and not every viewer is into samurai dram without tons of swordfights and spewing arterial spray, so individual mileage may vary. That said, I recommend it for those who can handle its pacing. 

                                                Poster for the Japanese theatrical release.

Friday, October 22, 2021

31 DAYS OF HORROR 2021 -Day 22: DEATH KAPPA (2010)

When a kaiju movie utterly loses its marbles.

The lunatics behind THE MACHINE GIRL and TOKYO GORE POLICE have struck again and this time they've set their sights on Japan's signature take on the monster genre.

Pretty young Kanako (Misato Hirata) returns to her rural hometown after her attempt at a J-pop music career in Tokyo tanks, and we immediately realize that she occupies a place existing between the mundane world of man and the bizarre realm of the yokai, creatures from classical Japanese myth and legend. The few townspeople we see appear as creatures straight out of old block prints, only transposed into the modern day and holding down everyday jobs, and Kanako does not bat an eye at their strangeness, what with having lived among them her whole life. While walking home from the train station, Kanako sees her kindly old grandmother (played by Hiroko Sakurai, beloved to tokusatsu junkies as Fuji from the original ULTRAMAN series) struck and killed by a speeding car driven by an assortment of drunken joyriders.

Kanako's ill-fated grandmother, played by legendary tokusatsu actress Hiroko Sakurai, aka Fuji from ULTRAMAN.

Hiroko Sakurai and the rest of the Science Patrol from ULTRAMAN (1966)

Taking her dying grandmother's wishes to heart, Kanako accepts her family's mantle as a Shinto priestess and vows to take care of the family's shrine dedicated to the kappa, a legendary creature deeply connected to her ancestors.

Kanako in her priestess' formalwear.

One unexpected side effect of the drunken joyriders' rampage is the knocking of the sacred kappa shrine into the ocean, where the statue comes to life. The kappa soon makes its presence known when it appears in Kanako's yard and happily dances to one of her cheesy (and failed) pop songs.

An adorable and friendly monster, the kappa befriends Kanako and two of her buddies (presumably old friends but the translation does not really make that clear since it's really unimportant to the story) and they all spend a brief time playing games and having fun in the idyllic Japanese countryside.

Good times with good friends. Too bad it can't last...

But while all of these good vibes are happening, mysterious figures are seen lurking about at night. Something strange and mostly unseen emerges from the ocean and kills the male joyriders, while saving the females for some sinister purpose overseen by uniformed men...

Up until this point, the film seems like it's going to be something along the lines of DARBY O'GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE (1959) or THE SECRET OF ROAN INISH (1994), wherein we have the mundane existing alongside the fantastic in a way that blends the charming and the wistful. Well, this is a modern Japanese concoction from the makers of films that go out of their way to be balls-out insane, and any hope of sanity is irrevocably dashed when the kappa and Kanako are captured by the mysterious men in uniform and the film veers straight into left field, becoming perhaps the funniest parody of Japanese giant monster movie tropes thus far to hit the screen. It's important to note that sometimes Asian humor does not travel well past its own borders, but the comedic intent of DEATH KAPPA is universally outrageous and silly, even Pythonesque in some respects, and can easily be grokked by anyone who's ever seen any of the classic Godzilla or Gamera films, or even old reruns of ULTRAMAN.

When Kanako regains consciousness, she finds that she and her kappa pal are at the mercy of a troop of modern day supporters of the WWII-style Japanese imperialism who intend to lift their nation from decades of postwar decadence and pussification by creating an army of weaponized fish-men, a plan concocted during WWII by a discredited (read "mad") scientist whose tits-out loony grand-daughter has continued his experiments and now only needs cells from the innocent kappa to give her army of fish-men (which totals three) that extra "oomph."

The modern day mad scientist and the corpse of her beloved and equally-insane grandfather, which she wheels around in a wheelchair. Yeah, that's normal...

It is swiftly revealed that the female joyriders were kidnapped to be turned into distaff members of the fish-army and Kanako is next in line for conversion, but kappa comes to the rescue, proving his skill at sumo (a sport attributed to the kappa in legends) and other forms of martial badassery.

Kappa came here to do two things: kick ass and chew bubblegum. And right now he's all out of bubblegum.

After kappa soundly kicks the collective ass of the imperialism revivalists and the fish-men,

the mad scientist chick exposes the fetish gear beneath her lab coat and opens up with a machine gun before blowing the lab to kingdom come with a leftover atomic bomb.

Now that's what I call mad science!

Once the (very bogus) smoke clears and everybody is apparently blasted to smithereens, a random giant monster called Hangyolas appears from out of nowhere and immediately makes with the urban renewal boogie.

The coming of Hangyolas.

Looking like a bizarre fusion of your garden variety Godzilla flick rampage or an episode of ULTRAMAN as filtered through MAD TV, Hangyolas destroys intentionally-fake buildings by the buttload as he also contends with wobbly toy tanks and hobby shop airplanes suspended on wires that are all-too-visible.

Like a throwaway detail out of a Mad Magazine parody of the genre, one of the defending aircraft is even piloted by an apparent drag queen, complete with makeup and a kicky scarf.

The balls-out rampage even includes a number of those atomic heat-ray tanks like those seen in MOTHRA (1961) and many other Toho city-stompers,

and we even get scenes from the sidelines where people whose homes have been destroyed sit by and watch the news reports of the destruction. Among the refugees is some knitting dude in a pink wig and schoolgirl's sailor suit uniform who's supposed to be a woman and is even given a dubbed female voice.

Then you get the expected hyperactive and suicidal news reporters, one of whom dies on the receiving end of Hangyolas' fiery breath, which would have been horrifying if not for the newscaster's screaming burning body being depicted with a stiff G.I. Joe-style doll.

When all hope seems lost, the kappa suddenly returns, only now he's several hundred feet tall and ready to engage Hangyolas in much building-smashing combat, some of which involves the kappa showing off his impressive martial arts skills, including cobbling together and using a pair of makeshift 'chucks.

No, you are not hallucinating.

After defeating Hangyolas, kappa becomes evil for no apparent reason and launches into his own wave of city-stomping and fire-breathing, leaving it up to an also-not-dead Kanako to save the day by placating him with water for his skull plate and the dulcet tones of her lousy pop song.

When all is said and done, the calmed kappa is once again a good guy and he is last seen swimming away into the horizon, an ending seen in countless Japanese giant monster flicks.

When the film's shift in tone occurs, it's as though a completely different movie featuring the same characters takes over and goes completely nuts, wallowing in damned near every trope found in the entire daikaiju cinema catalog. 2008's MONSTER X STRIKES BACK: ATTACK THE G8 SUMMIT mined similar territory and was also quite funny for those familiar with this kind of thing, but DEATH KAPPA has it beat by a mile for sheer lunacy and willingness to be as visually and conceptually crazy as possible. It takes a little while to get going and even seems rather treacly at first, but all of that serves to get you ready for a completely different type of film and then it violently pulls the rug out from under you, figuratively sending you tumbling down eight flights of stairs and resulting in considerable brain damage. Needless to say, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Poster from the film's brief American theatrical run.